Poetics and Poetry Discussion


Is there a book you just read, a piece of poetry news or a reading you just heard that you want to talk about? Here's the place to start a conversation.
Post a message

Click here to list all messages

***** ***** Female, 14, United States (5/9/2005 6:13:00 PM)

Here is a poem of utter genius.... one of my favourite poets and a personal mentor.... now deceased, eaten by a vicious affliction..


Michael Hartnett

The Retreat of Ita Cagney

for Liam Brady

1

Their barbarism did not assuage the grief:
their polished boots, their Sunday clothes,
the drone of hoarse melodeons.
The smoke was like the edge of blue scythes.
The downpour smell of overcoats
made the kitchen cry for air;
snuff lashed the nose like nettles
and the toothless praising of the dead
spun on like unoiled bellows.
She could not understand her grief:
the women who had washed his corpse
were now more intimate with him
than she had ever been.
She put a square of silk upon her head
and hidden in the collars of her coat
she felt her way along the whitewashed walls.
The road became a dim knkife.
She had no plan
but instinct neighed around her
like a pulling horse.


2


Moulded to a wedge of jet
by the wet night, her black hair
showed one grey rib, like a fine
steel filing on a forge floor.
One deep line cut be silent
days of hate in the expanse
of sallow skin above her brows,
dipped down to a tragic slant.
Her eyebrows wre thin penlines
Finely drawn on parchment sheets,
Hair after mimiscule hair
A linear nasterpiece.
Triangles of minute gold
Broke her open blue of eyes
That had looked on bespoke love
Seeing only to despise.

Her long nose was almost bone
making her face too severe:
the tight and rose-edged nostrils
never belled into a flare.
A fine gold down above the
upper lip did not maintain
its prettiness not lower’s swell
make it less a graph on pain.
Chin and jawline delicate,
neither weak not skeletal:
bone in definite stern mould,
small and strong like a fox-skull.
Her throat showed no signs of age.
No sinews reinforced flesh
or gathered in clenched fistfuls
to pull skin to a lined mesh.

The rest was shapeless, in black woollen dress.


3

Door opened halving darkness bronze
and half an outlines man
filled half the bronze.
Lamplight whipped upright into gold
the hairs along his nose,
flowed coils of honey
around his head.
In the centre of his throat
clipped on his blue-striped shirt
a stud briefly pierced a thorn of light.

The male smell of the kitchen
engulfed her face,
odours of lost gristle
and grease along the wall:
her headscarf laughed a challenge,
its crimson wrinkles crackling.
He knuckled up the wooden latch
and closed the door for many years.

4

Great ceremony later causes pain:
next year in hatred and in grief, the vain
white dress, the bulging priest, the frantic dance,
the vowing and the sickening wished, land
like careful hammers on a broken hand.
But in this house no scared text was read.
He offered her some food: they went to bed,
his arm and side a helmet for her head.
This was no furtive country coupling: this
was the ultimate hello, kiss and kiss
exchanged and bodies introduced. Their skin –
to choose so late a moment to begin,
while shamefaced chalice, pyx, ciborium
clanged their giltwrapped anger in the room.


5

The swollen leather creaks
like lost birds
and the edges of her shawl
fringe down into the dark
while glaciers of oilskins drip around her
and musical traces and chafing of harness
and tedious drumming of hooves on the gravel
make her labour pains become
the direct rebuke and pummel of the town.

Withdrawing from her pain
to the nightmare warmth
beneath her shawl
the secret meeting in the dark
becomes a public spectacle
and baleful sextons turn their heads
and sullen shadows mutter hate
and snarl and debate
and shout vague threats of hell.

The crossroads blink their headlamp warning
and break into a rainbow on the shining tar:
the new skill turns in its warm pain,
the new skull pushes towards its morning.


6

O my small and warm creature
with your gold hair and your skin
that smells of milk and apples,
I must always lock you in
where nothing much can happen.
But you will hate these few rooms,
for a dove is bound to come
with leaves and outdoor perfumes:
already the talons drum
a beckoning through the slates,
bring form the people words
and messages of hate.
Soon the wingbeats of this bird
will whisper down in their dive.
I dread the coming of this dove
for its beak will be a knife
and if you leave armed with my love
they will tell you what you lack.

The will make you wear my life
like a hump upon your back.


7


…. each footprint being green in the wet grass
in search of mushrooms like white moons of lime,
each hazel ooze of cowdung through the toes,
being warm, and slipping like a floor of silk …
but all the windows are in mourning here:
the giant eye gleams like a mucous hill.
She pictured cowslips, then his farmer’s face,
and waited in a patient discontent.
A heel of mud fell from his garden boots
embossed with nails and whit-hilt shoots of grass,
a hive of hayseeds in the woollen grooves
of meadow coats fell golden on the floor,
and apples with medallions of rust
englobed a thickening cider on the shelf:
and holly on the varnished frames bent in
and curved its cat-sharp fingernails of green.
The rooms became resplendent with these signs.

8


I will put purple crêpe and crimson crêpe
and white crêpe on the shelf
and watch the candles cry
O salutaris hostia.
I will light the oil-lamp till it burns
like a scarlet apple
and was the candlegrease
upon the ledges interweave
to ropes of ivory.
I have not insulted God:
I have insulted
crombie coats and lace mantillas,
Sunday best and church collections,
and they declare my life a sinful act:
not because it hurts
the God they say they love –
not because their sins are less –
but because my happiness
is not a public fact.


9


In rhythmic dance the neighbours move
outside my door, become dumb dolls
as venom breaks in strident fragments
on the glass; broken insults clatter
on the slates. The pack retreats,
the instruments of siege withdraw
and skulk into the foothills to regroup.
The houses nudge and mutter through the night
and wait intently for the keep to fall.
She guards her sleeping citizen
and paces the exhausting floor:
on speaking avenues of stone
she hears the infantry of eyes advance.

To post a reply to this message, click here
Replies for this message:

 

  • ***** ***** (5/9/2005 8:22:00 PM) Post reply

    I have to admit he is an influence and gave me such insight into a world I can only dream of at times....

[Hata Bildir]